Gregory T. Buckley Jr. of Oceanside could be found shooting hoops on the basketball courts of Oceanside Park with his brothers and father, from the age of 5 until his expedition to Afghanistan in as the United States Navy. Now, on the 10th anniversary of the Gregory T. Buckley Jr. Basketball Tournament, the courts, which have become his “happy place” over the years, will be named after him.
To honor his life and service to his country, the town of Hempstead renamed the basketball courts in his honor.
“Today is about preserving the legacy of Greg Jr., it’s not about all of us here sweating it out on this basketball court,” said Hempstead Councilman Anthony D’Esposito at the name change ceremony on July 17. “It’s about the future generation of Hempstead and Oceanside townspeople and young kids who decades from now are going to walk down that basketball court and look at the board and ask, ‘Who was Greg Buckley? ? They’re gonna jump on their iPhones and google him and they’re gonna find out he was a young man from Oceanside who played those same courts and left the community for something much bigger than any of us could ever imagine. He dressed and went to the battlefield and in doing so, gave his life for this great nation.
Town Supervisor Don Clavin added: “We are here today to honor an outstanding hero in the town of Hempstead, one who gave his life for our entire country. Renaming to the basketball court at Oceanside Park is a serious way to honor Lance Cpl. The important legacy of Gregory T. Buckley Jr. here in America’s Greatest Township.
Buckley enlisted in the Marines at age 17, before serving in Afghanistan. While on tour, he had just celebrated his 21st birthday and was due to return home for a visit when he was shot dead by an Afghan policeman on August 10, 2012. His death was mourned not only by the local Oceanside community but nationally. as well, and his funeral service drew thousands of people. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and the street in Oceanside where he resided was renamed Lance Cpl. Gregory T. Buckley Drive.
He was known as a star player on the Oceanside High School basketball team and to honor his life and service, as well as his love of the sport of basketball, the tournament was created.
“Ten years ago, all of his friends and I thought it would be a good idea to honor him by doing what he loved,” said his father, Gregory Buckley Sr.. “A 10-year anniversary, it’s always great, but this year it fell on his birthday, July 17 is his birthday, he would have been 31 today.
Tournament participants would enter a team of four, playing a three-on-three match, with winning teams advancing to the next bracket for the chance to compete for medals and trophies.
Buckley Jr.’s classmate and friend, Markiquse Chess, came to make sure his name would never be forgotten.
“We spent a lot of time here growing up in the neighborhood and the basketball court was always a place where we played and hung out,” Chess said. “This year, being the 10th year and with all that is going on with COVID and where we are at as a world, it is good to come together for a good cause and to remember Greg and all who serve and dedicate their lives to making sure we can keep doing things like this.
Chess’ girlfriend, Shelby Stephenson, traveled from Montreal, Canada, for the tournament and honored him through her art, which she gave as a gift to the family.
“Greg was a huge part of Markiquse’s life and he told me his story and when he told me about the tournament I wanted to pay tribute to him,” Stephenson said. “He showed me this photo of him in his uniform, so I continued. I’m trying to capture his eyes; I only used color in his eyes because it’s such a powerful photo in self in his uniform but adding color to his eyes adds a lot of personality. What happened to him is unreal and it’s such a powerful story. I wish I had the chance to meet him.
His former Oceanside High School basketball coach, Dan Keegan, remembered Buckley Jr. as a great sport.
“Greg was a great guy to coach because he had fun,” Keegan said. “Yes, it’s about the competition, but he never lost sight of the fact that it was just a game and it should be fun and it’s always something his teammates managed to hang on. No one loved playing basketball more than Greg and when people tried to make it more serious than it should be he was a great reminder that it was just a game and it was about build lifelong friendships.
The Gregory T. Buckley Jr. Basketball Courts at Oceanside Park are located at 3800 Mahlon Brower Drive.